New Lincoln High a bad call by school board

McClellanville Middle School, which was to be converted to a high school before the board changed its mind. (Leroy Burnell/File)

On Aug. 14, members of the Charleston County School Board voted to add the potential construction of a new Lincoln High School in McClellanville to the proposed referendum, at a site to be determined and at a presently unknown cost ($30 million is a conservative estimate). This vote rejected the recommendation made in the Phase IV Capital Programs Master Plan to make Lincoln High School a two-campus school using the McClellanville Middle School building, which was renovated in 1994 and sits idle in the center of the town.

The Capital Programs Master Plan, presented at a school board workshop in April, was developed to help the school board prioritize building projects, listing prior capital projects, current facilities conditions and enrollment trends based on future demographic growth projections. The goal of the master plan was to give decision makers information needed for an Integrated Priority List (IPL) of projects for funds resulting from the sales tax extension on the November ballot.

The CCSD spent months assembling the data in the Master Plan, and in presenting it to the school board urged that the projects approved in the final IPL are those of highest priority. Criteria used by the district for determining new construction and/or replacement facilities are based on:

? Life safety/condition.

? Overcrowding and future growth.

? Programming that supports choice and student options.

With that in mind, let's get back to the vote for a new high school in McClellanville. What is known is that the current grades 9-12 enrollment at Lincoln totals 106 students.

Conversely, as of the first day of school on Aug. 18 Wando High School enrolled 3,772 students. A second District 2 high school is long overdue. Pinckney and Laurel Hill have enrollments of 1,276 and 1,019 respectfully. They have no more room for mobile classrooms.

In North Charleston we are seeing similar growth. Corcoran opened with 626. Ladson has 719 and no space for mobiles. Pepperhill is bursting at 553 and Dunston (grades pre-K to 2) has 294 students and no more space. These numbers do not include child development classes, and enrollment always grows through the first two weeks of the school year.

In November 2010, voters in Charleston County approved a referendum for a six year, one penny sales tax. CCSD staff made good on their promise to deliver high quality schools, on time and on or under budget. They pledged to be fiscally prudent and stayed within a previous board's guidelines to build cost-efficient schools, where enrollment would be maximized without sacrificing academic program quality or student safety (ideal size for an elementary school, for instance, is 500 students).

The district works to re-use and repurpose existing buildings whenever possible. There are multiple examples of buildings being transformed from middle school to elementary (Drayton Hall); high school to middle school (Stall High to Northwoods Middle); and, middle school to high school (Toole Middle to Military Magnet Middle-High School).

The District 1 recommendation for Lincoln High School included repurposing of existing structures by seismically retrofitting, renovating and building a 10,000 square-feet classroom addition onto the McClellanville Middle School to become the academic campus to support Lincoln. The recommendation also was to demolish the Lincoln campus to become the campus for career and technical education and athletics by keeping the CTE facility, gym and stadium to support Lincoln High School.

Growth projections for District 1 show a decline in school age children and decreased enrollment, which resulted in the previous decision to close McClellanville Middle School as a part of the school redesign process. Many families request to transfer out of District 1 schools to other larger district schools where there are more options available to their students. One fourth of the students who live in District 1 request voluntary transfers out of Lincoln MHS.

The enrollment at Lincoln MHS has dropped below the critical mass and is far below the district's recommended 500-student minimum size. This causes the average per pupil operating cost to be 3 times the district's per pupil spending and above private school tuition.

The questions on the minds of every parent and community leader in overcrowded parts of the county, such as Park West in Mount Pleasant and the elementary schools in North Charleston is how will the list of projects be prioritized? Which project will be replaced if this school is funded? Moreover, will voters still trust the district to be prudent stewards of public funds?

The district recommendations have been made to meet the highest needs for our students and communities across the county. Let us stay focused on doing the best for the most through, thoughtful, fair and strong leadership.

The school board needs to support the recommendations made by CCSD for the priority projects that are expected to be adequately funded by sales tax receipts before turning to other projects that, while potentially desired, aren't addressing the most critical needs of the county.

Chris Fraser is a member of the Charleston County school Board and the 2014 chairman of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.